The ranks of print, web and broadcast pundits and journalists continue to be decimated by enemy action as the war progresses. The total number of casualties are becoming almost uncountable, and are overwhelming the limited field emergency facilities. This reporter got a first-hand view of the devastation and tragedy in a visit to a typical field hospital.
At the entrance the doctors, assisted by editors, are performing triage. They quickly sort through the injured, making snap decisions to place them in three categories: those who can be quickly bandaged up with some minor counseling and facts, and sent back to the front; those who continue to pontificate under the burden of so much maleducation and inability to think, and so many wrong ideas, broken syllogisms, and inappropriate conclusions, that they are beyond redemption; and those who are grievously confused, but can be saved with immediate attention.
The first thing that strikes you when you enter the infirmary is the smell. The stench assaults the nose–it’s a pungent blend of moldering printer’s ink and decaying sanctimony.
Inside, those who are lucid are still bewildered at the stunning reversal of fortune that caused so many casualties. One older reporter is a grizzled veteran of the successful Tet Offensive, in which a US victory on the ground had been successfully converted into an ignominious setback in the papers and television news, with little organized resistance.
“When we arrived at the front, everything was going our way, just as we expected. The US Air Force had been pounding the Taliban for weeks, with no obvious effect. We thought that the battlefield was prepared for a major propaganda advance. But just as we started to move out seriously, with fusillades of stories about Vietnam analogies, and the futility of just chasing down terrorists without addressing why the world hates us, the Taliban and Al Qaeda started to collapse without warning. We came under fire ourselves. Huge shellbursts of cruel reality and vicious satire were exploding all around us, and dangerous facts were whizzing just past our ears, sometimes right in one and out the other…”
The fire from the webloggers, or “bloggers,” had been particularly devastating, with pinpoint accuracy and precision.
Dazed, he continued, “…it wasn’t supposed to be like this. In basic journalism training, they told us we were the best and the brightest–we knew it all. How could a bunch of unpaid internet guys without journalism degrees or training tear us to pieces like that?”
“…My partner and I were working on a big story on the clear parallels between the American invasion of Afghanistan, and the failures of the British and Russia in the same place. But I haven’t seen him here. Can you tell me what’s happened to him?”
The doctor gently tells him that they’re still trying to find out.
“Tell me, doc, will I ever be able to write again? Will anyone ever believe me?”
She just smiles, and pats his hand.
She takes me aside after we leave the bedside and tells me softly, “I don’t think that he’s well enough to take the news right now. But his partner was transferred to the Des Moines Daily Dispatch to do obits.”
The carnage might not have been so horrendous had these been fresh reporters, but many of them were already suffering battle fatigue from two previous disastrous campaigns: the eight-year war to convince the American people that Bill Clinton was a great president, and the more recent year-and-a-half futile struggle, lost decisively three months ago, to portray George W. Bush as an ineffective idiot. The final rout at the Battle of the Pardons had taken much out of them, and after Bush achieved his 90% approval rating in September, they weren’t really prepared to be thrown into the Afghan breach.
Many lie in a delirium, still unable to comprehend the incomprehensible. A woman named Maureen lies, pathetically, in a fetal position. She rocks back and forth, gently cradling her keyboard in her arms, as she whimpers, barely audible, “quagmire, murky…they’re bogged down–they must be bogged down…quagmire…”
For some, a lucky few, catatonia is a blessed escape. One poor wretch named Ted just sits up in his bed all day. His brow is furrowed, and his eyes are unfocused, or focused on some distant unreality, unseeable by the rest of us.
Old newsroom veterans call it the “thousand-word stare.” They’ve all seen it–that look you get as you gaze intently at a blank computer screen, in a futile attempt to conjure up some words that will somehow spin an obvious and just victory into humiliating and immoral failure.
He had been leading a frontal assault on common sense, when he was cut down in a withering fire of logic and irony by a brigade of blogger sharpshooters and fact checkers. The hits were effective, but not always clean. He lived, but his syntax was badly mangled, and his credibility was shattered beyond any hope of salvaging it.
Down the hall come blood-curdling screams from an emergency surgical unit. The doctor explains, “We’re low on anaesthetics. We’ve requisitioned supplies, but it’s hard to get anyone to respond. For some reason, there seems to be very little sympathy for these people.”
The cries of agony continue–it is almost unbearable to hear. “Sometimes, the only way to save them is emergency removal of fatally-flawed precepts and paradigms. There’s no time to do it gently.”
For some, though, perhaps death would be kinder. One man, by the name of Robert, had to have so many false assumptions, invalid premises, and logical fallacies removed that there was little left. They couldn’t excise the last vestiges of self loathing–to do so would have left him with nothing at all. Now, he just wanders the halls with a bandage on his head, like a post-post-modernist zombie. As he staggers along, he mutters under his breath, “I’m a Western oppressor. Beat me…stone me. Ooooohhhh, I’m such a naughty little tool of the phallocentric oligarchy. Spank me…spank me until my tender little bum is a rosy red…”
An orderly brushes past him, wearing nose plugs. He is carrying, at arms’ length, a slop-bucket full of stale cliches, failed paradigms and illogical conclusions, in search of some place to dump them where they won’t contaminate the local educational system.
Even for those who will eventually recover, the road to becoming productive may be long and painful. Many have experienced nothing their entire lives except misreporting war and politics, and are untrained and unfit for anything else. Without some way of transitioning them back into civil society, they will remain a dangerous source of social instability. The necessary rehabilitation can often involve months, even years, of special therapy, to regain, or in some cases, to achieve for the first time, the use of their minds.
Many will require relearning, or even unlearning, many things they’ve always taken for granted. They will have to start at the very beginning, with Logic 101. After months of painful mental exercises and thought, they will be gradually eased into actual history, rhetoric, and economics courses, as their minds grow stronger.
I stop by one of the therapy centers to observe.
“Now Sunera, let’s try this again. All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore…?”
Sunera frowns, and sweat appears on her forehead. Hesitantly, she ventures, “Therefore…Socrates is the basis of male-centered western patriarchal violence that continues to brutalize women and grind them under its bootheels…?”
“No, Sunera,” the therapist explains patiently. “We’re practicing logic here. Lo-gic. Remember what I told you about logic?”
I close the door quietly. It will indeed be a long and hard road.
As I leave, I see a general at the entrance with a doctor, staring at the row of beds.
“Where do they find people like this?,” he asks in amazement.
The doctor answers, quietly, “As long as there are schools of journalism, we will never run out…”
(Copyright 2001, by Rand Simberg)